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What does this mean to you? Like the cords/chords thing, I know what it means to me, but doubt has been cast as to how typical I am.
 
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Enormity, that is.
 
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Oh, Paul, what a fabulous post. I learned that I have never known the correct meaning; thankfully it is not a word I would commonly use. I have always thought it to mean immensity, when in fact it means "excessive wickedness or outrageousness. A monstrous offense or evil; an outrage". I could have made a real fool of myself! Wink
 
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Enormity is one of those words that people use wrongly simply because they are trying to be too clever! Another is "substantive" which people often use when the mean "substantial" - simply because "substantive" seems a "clever" word.

However, it is not an exact simile for substantial and the meaning of a document could be completely changed.

Richard English
 
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quote:
I have always thought it to mean immensity, when in fact it means "excessive wickedness or outrageousness ...


Kalleh, the reason I asked is that I have a long-standing debate with a person in another place about this. I have maintained the meaning of enormity is "great wickedness" and that its use to mean "immensity", although common, is an error.

My opponent posted this:

quote:
My point is that, like lots of words, it has other meanings and one of these is "gigantic".

And, like many words, its existence and meaning is defined by its usage, not by your intellectual yardstick ... the word has long been brought out of mothballs in the gigantic sense, and I can't help feeling that it's intellectual superiority only which causes some people to fail to accept its use in this sense, rather than a practical/pragmatic approach to language.

If it was a very recent invention or corruption of a word, I could be persuaded that it was at least one of those words "to be avoided" ... but it has a very long history in this sense.

And I wonder how many who use the word "enormous" know that its primary meanings are "deviating from the rule, monstrous, excessively wicked".


So I thought I'd seek some other opinions. Do we feel the word has changed its meaning, and it is correct (or at least acceptable) to use it to mean "immensity"?

[This message was edited by pauld on Thu May 8th, 2003 at 3:05.]
 
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OED2 says: "Excess in magnitude; hugeness, vastness. Obs.; recent examples might perh. be found, but the use is now regarded as incorrect."

So there you have it.

Stephen.
 
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quote:
So there you have it.


Mike has no truck with that. He had previously said:

quote:
According to the OED it is "obs ... but the use is now regarded as incorrect". However, in my view (and the view of many who understand the way that the English language works) it is a very useful word whose earlier meaning has sustained, and is not really "obs" by virtue of the fact that it is used a great deal in this sense.
 
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I actually meant "the use is now regarded as incorrect" which I think still holds.

We're not going to let them redefine infer either, now are we?

Stephen.
 
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... which I think still holds.

Well that's what I think, but Mike's "a very useful word whose earlier meaning has sustained" has caused me to question it. Once you discard the pomposity, he is quite often right!
 
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Infer/imply -- I wonder. I don't think he'd defend that confusion.
 
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<Asa Lovejoy>
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Since the etymology of the word suggests a deviation from the accepted norm, it seems reasonable that a case could rightly be made for both definitions, which as been done above. Now, if I'm wrong, please point out the enormity of my error!
 
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Oh, no, that's enormousness.
 
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As well as ignominy?

Regarding pauld commenting, "I have maintained the meaning of enormity is "great wickedness" and that its use to mean "immensity", although common, is an error":

If enormity can no longer be used to mean "great wickedness", then what term have we for that meaning -- for surely the concept of "great wickedness" is not obsolete, and thus needs a word. This, it seems to me, argues for preserving that meaning of enormity.
 
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Enormity is one of those words that people use wrongly simply because they are trying to be too clever!
Not in my case, Richard. In my case it is just plain ignorance.

I have to say, I have learned so much on this board about uses of ordinary words, like "moot", "perverse", "infer", "clarify and elucidate", "fungible", etc. It amazes me to think that being in academe for 20 years and publishing a lot, it really was only a year or so ago when I got so interested in words. That is thanks to Shufitz, BTW Wink. At any rate, I am way behind most of you, but I enjoy immensely (enormously?) learning from you! Big Grin
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:
I enjoy immensely (enormously?) learning from you! Big Grin
Smile The word immensely could be read as modifying either enjoy or learning. A very clever construction there, Kallah. My hat's off to you.
 
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An update on enormity from Michael Quinion (link).


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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>So can we use enormity as Obama did? Yes, we can.

I agree enormously with Quinion, here.
 
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<Asa Lovejoy>
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Since politics seems to be a constant contest between two equally egregious evils, both definitions seem appropriate to me. F'rinstance, I voted for Obama despite his having given praise to Chicago mayor Dailey, who seems to be among the sleaziest politicians in this country. An "enormous" mistake on my part? Time will tell.

Asa, anticipating some Chi-town thugs on his doorstep soon
 
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Asa, you are wrong about Mayor Daley. He has made his mistakes, yes, but generally he has done an incredible job for Chicago. He has raised public education in Chicago with our charter schools. He has cleaned up the city and revitalized many parts of it. While crime is still a problem, he has taken major steps to fight crime. Heck, he was the first mayor to try to sue gun companies for illegally selling guns to criminals and others without licenses. He lost, but he tried. He has provided the city of Chicago with world-class museums and libraries. Our public transportation, though often a problem because of our governor (now our governor is horrible and will soon be voted out, I am sure; you didn't see Obama praising him!), has always received considerable support from Daley. It just goes to show what the media can do to a fine man and an even finer place. It was very unsettling for all Chicagoans to read the trash (for the purpose of criticizing Obama) that was reported about Chicago during the election. Here is an article on that, reported in the conservative Chicago Tribune.

Oh, and back to the subject...it is interesting to see that the definition of enormity used to be enormousness. It evolved along the way, as words do and as we've discussed here. Therefore, those who don't like it when people use it to mean the noun for enormous are actually, according to the prescriptivists, the ones who are wrong. Wink
 
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Consider the enormity of your arguing against Obama's use of "enormity" as enormous. Are you saying this is another president gone wrong?
 
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If you're talking about my comment, Proof, I argued for Obama's use of the word. Perhaps I was unclear. What I had meant to say was that Obama used the word enormity as it had originally been used ("immensity"). That definition, however, evolved to mean "monstrously wicked;" indeed, prescriptivists think the "monstrously wicked" definition is correct, while the "immensity" definition is not. Yet, these prescriptivists are the very people who most often hang tight to original meanings.

At any rate, we all knew what Obama meant by his use of the word. That's the point of words.
 
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Think "happy face", Kalleh. No, it wasn't directed your way. Just wondering why the president-elect's word choice is being dissected when GWB's attacks on words didn't get any comments here.
 
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quote:
Just wondering why the president-elect's word choice is being dissected when GWB's attacks on words didn't get any comments here.

In my opinion, it's because I perceive Obama as a very bright, well-educated man; GWB is a whole 'nother matter. Roll Eyes

Oh, and Kalleh, ask private pilots from Chicago about Meigs Field, THEN tell me about Daley!
 
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Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage: "We have seen that there is no clear basis for the 'rule' at all. We suggest that you follow the writers rather than the critics: writers use enormity with a richness and subtlety that the critics have failed to take account of. The stigmatized sense is entirely standard and has been for more than a century and a half."
 
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Well I started all this (in another thread actually) but I wasn't attacking anyone or even dissecting his remarks. Nevertheless I think K. has it right. What would have been the point of dissecting President Bush's remarks? That's so easy that every pundit in the English speaking world had a go at at*. Whatever his merits or otherwise as a politician, few would be prepared to argue that Bush was a great speaker. Obama on the other hand is an unknown quantity as a politician but he is certainly a great speaker. That's why it seems a little odd that he would choose a word that, while not wrong as such, is susceptible to multiple and potentially undesirable interpretations.

Of course the word can be used to mean "size". Hence the phrasing of the title of the original post in that other thread, "I wonder which he meant..."

My principal objection to using "enormity" is precisely that it can, and usually does, lead to this kind of debate and would therefore be better avoided. There are, after all, plenty of synonyms around.

(* I believe your colourful idiom is, "shooting fish in a barrel.")


"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money." Samuel Johnson.
 
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My principal objection to using "enormity" is precisely that it can, and usually does, lead to this kind of debate and would therefore be better avoided. There are, after all, plenty of synonyms around.
That's a good point, Bob.
quote:
Oh, and Kalleh, ask private pilots from Chicago about Meigs Field, THEN tell me about Daley!
Asa is talking about Mayor Daley ripping up Meig's Field, in the middle of the night to build a park for Chicago on the lake. Mayor Daley had the legal right to do that, though it was sneaky, I agree. Sleazy, though? I am not sure. It depends on your definition of the word sleazy.

Chicago already had 2 other airports that private pilots could use (world-class O'Hare and Midway). Meigs was a small airport for the few Chicagoans who own private planes. Yes, they could avoid the hub-bub of the major airports, but they do have access to those major airports. On the other hand, Chicagoans have very few parks, and this one is on the gorgeous lake and open to all who live in and around Chicago. So maybe you can see a little of Daley's point? Every time he turned, those private pilots were setting up roadblocks to taking down Meigs, so Daley took that action in the middle of the night. It almost reminds me of something Rahm Emanuel, Obama's new Chief of Staff, would do. They are both action oriented, as long as it's within the law. Daley has never been accused of fraud or other illegal action, which to me connotes "sleazy." I could be wrong about that word, though.
 
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Reviving a thread

Well, Obama did it again.
 
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so, going back again once more to Quinion's argument, is that giving Obama *too much credit for being clever (as opposed to just being too clever)?
 
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Although I am a disinterested observer of the US elections, I would say that I am not uninterested in the lexical aspects of the various speeches I have heard.

Or is that another verbal distinction that is being lost?


Richard English
 
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MWDEU weighs in on the subject of disinterested and uninterested (link). There are two entries: (1) on the lack of a nominal form of uninterested and (2), at the bottom of the next page, analyzing the usage and meaning.
quote:
The 1933 Supplement [of the OED] removed the label [i.e., Obsolete] and presented, without comment, three modern citations, all British, all dated 1928. This evidence refutes the assertion of Anthony Burgess, quoted in Harper 1985, that this use of disinterested is "one of the worst of all American solecisms." On the contrary, it is the discovery of the usage problem that is American. The issue was unknown to Fowler 1926 (the Fowler mentioned by Copperud 1970 is, in fact, Sir Ernest Gowers in his 1965 revision of Fowler), and it is unremarked in the 1933 OED Supplement.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Merriam-Webster Online:

Still, use of senses 1a and 1b ["not interested" and "no longer interested"] will incur the disapproval of some who may not fully appreciate the history of this word or the subtleties of its present use.
 
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Having waded through the entry, it seems to me that what they are saying is the disinterested can mean uninterested, but that uninterested cannot mean disinterested.


Richard English
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Richard English:
Having waded through the entry, it seems to me that what they are saying is the disinterested can mean uninterested, but that uninterested cannot mean disinterested.


That's my understanding as well. disinterested means "impartial", "not interested", and "no longer interested". The first attested meaning of uninterested was "impartial", but it is not used with that sense any more.
 
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quote:
disinterested means "impartial", "not interested", and "no longer interested". The first attested meaning of uninterested was "impartial", but it is not used with that sense any more.

But if I understand the reference correctly, disinterested can mean "not interested".


Richard English
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Richard English:
But if I understand the reference correctly, disinterested can mean "not interested".


Yes, you're right, and that's what I just said.
 
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I wanted to get this out before it hit any newpapers.

Today President Obama addressed a meeting of state governors about use of Stimulus money. He mentioned that some governors were reluctant to accept federal funds and were concerned that some of the funds would not directly address the economic problems. Obama then said all of the funds would be transparently disbursed and subject to a "fulsome accounting."

The word fulsome has been used to mean "ample" in recent days but this usage is disparaged by most language mavens. They accord it its original meaning of "disgusting."

Should Obama have been more careful in choosing his words, or do you this usage appropriate?
 
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As is so often the case in these sorts of disputes, the disparaged meaning is actually the earliest meaning. The OED has cites for fulsome with the sense "Characterized by abundance, possessing or affording copious supply; abundant, plentiful, full" from c1250.

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage:
quote:
Most usage commentators and handbooks are still measuring current usage with the rather overblown definition of 1909 ["disgusting, insincerity or baseness of motive"], and as a result they tend to censure any use they feel is insufficiently pejorative. Modern lexicography will eventually catch up with present-day use, and the commentators, one hopes, will soften their remarks... If you do use the nonpejorative senses, make sure your context is unambiguous.


Pullum on fulsome
 
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And here is our discussion of it, for what it's worth. Tinman doesn't like the word, and Asa thinks it's a prison. Wink
 
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This is an example of the mistaken belief among writers, speakers, and speech writers that multisyllabicousness adds something positive.

"Full" would have been a better choice, or no adjective at all. Isn't accounting expected to be full, thorough, comprehensive, and accurate?
 
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Although some dictionaries define the word as "...Unpleasantly and excessively suave or ingratiating in manner or speech..." the OED does give the sense of "copious" as an alternative. It does, however, make the point that this meaning is disputed and most modern authorities suggest that this use is incorrect.

Having said which, I would have though that the adjective would have be the wrong one to use to describe accounting process, whichever sense was meant. As Jerry suggests, "full" would have been better. Or maybe thorough or comprehensive would better have expressed Obama's meaning.


Richard English
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Richard English:
Although some dictionaries define the word as "...Unpleasantly and excessively suave or ingratiating in manner or speech..." the OED does give the sense of "copious" as an alternative. It does, however, make the point that this meaning is disputed and most modern authorities suggest that this use is incorrect.


What exactly does your version of the OED say? The version of the online OED that I can access doesn't say anything about a disputed meaning. What it does do is mark the "copious" meaning as obsolete, which is clearly wrong.
 
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I agree with Richard, here. I don't think fulsome, in any of its meanings, makes much sense in context. "Comprehensive" would have been a much better choice.

Leaving that aside the main trouble with using words like fulsome or enormity isn't that you are likely to be misunderstood - context usually makes the intention clear - but that you are likely to find yourself enveloped in a storm of absolutely pointless (and usually ill-informed) debate about the meanings.

(That said, I can't help "correcting" people around me whenever I hear the word "enormity". It's a kind of Pavlovian response for me.)

This message has been edited. Last edited by: BobHale,


"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money." Samuel Johnson.
 
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It's funny how some words, or grammatical (do I dare say "errors?") uses, give us that Pavlovian response. They seem to be different for all of us. For arnie, for example, it's "moot." For Richard, it's "fulsome." For Bob it's "enormity." For some it's the pronunciation of "err." For me it's "less" and "fewer." It's like fingernails on the chalkboard for me...yet, I hear all of you here say it's just fine.

Here is what the OED has for definitions of "fulsome:"

1. Characterized by abundance, possessing or affording copious supply; abundant, plentiful, full.

1b. Growing abundantly, rank in growth. Obs.

2. Of the body, etc.: Full and plump, fat, well-grown; in a bad sense, over-grown. Obs

2b. Overfed, surfeited. Also fig. Obs.

2c. App. used for: Lustful, ‘rank’. Obs.

3. Of food: Satiating, ‘filling’, tending to cloy or surfeit; also, coarse, gross, unsuited to a dainty palate. Obs.

3b. Having a sickly or sickening taste; tending to cause nausea. Obs.

3c. fig. Cloying, satiating, wearisome from excess or repetition. (Cf. sense 7.) Obs.

4. Offensive to the sense of smell: a. Strong-smelling, of strong, rank, or overpowering odour. b. Foul-smelling, stinking. Obs

5. Offensive to the senses generally; physically disgusting, foul, or loathsome. Obs.

6. Offensive to normal tastes or sensibilities; exciting aversion or repugnance; disgusting, repulsive, odious. ? Obs. exc. as in sense 7.

6b. Morally foul, filthy, obscene. Obs.

7. Of language, style, behaviour, etc.: Offensive to good taste; esp. offending from excess or want of measure or from being ‘over-done’. Now chiefly used in reference to gross or excessive flattery, over-demonstrative affection, or the like.

7b. quasi-n.
 
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I used to get annoyed at how people pronounced "Celt(ic)" (the people, languages) with /k/. Not because I didn't like the sound or anything, but because the reason they gave was wrong. They would justify it by saying that the letter C is always /k/ in Celtic languages, therefore it's /k/ in the word "Celt". I would then have to explain how "Celt" was not a word of Celtic origin, it was Greek, and English words of Greek origin have /s/ for C before E and I... it never ended well for anyone.

But the pronounciation with /k/ is standard, and altho I think it's weird, I'm not going to "correct" anyone. It's like saying "I don't like your hat, wear another one."
 
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